THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Naturally, a bit of a slowdown

Elements have affected Patriots' dash to records

RANDY MOSS A weather watcher RANDY MOSS A weather watcher
Email|Print| Text size + By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / December 18, 2007

FOXBOROUGH - Flash back to the Patriots' 56-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills Nov. 18. Tom Brady tossed five touchdown passes to give him 38 in 10 games. Wide receiver Randy Moss had set a franchise record with four TD receptions, giving him 16 on the season. New England was averaging 41.1 points per game.

Brady, Moss, and the Patriots weren't just on pace to break NFL records for touchdown passes in a season (49), touchdown receptions in a season (22), and points in a season (556), respectively, they were going to ground them up like snow melt.

A month later, those milestones that seemed like football fait accomplis are still likely to fall - possibly as soon as this Sunday against the 1-13 Miami Dolphins - but so has the Patriots' prolific offensive output.

They're still averaging 37.4 points per game, which would rank as the second-highest in NFL history, behind the 1950 Los Angeles Rams (38.8), but in the four games since the drubbing of the Bills, the Patriots offense has gone from su perhuman to simply superb, averaging 28 points per game.

Brady, who had thrown at least three touchdown passes in each of the first 10 games of the season, has seven total in the last four games. Moss, who averaged 105.2 yards receiving and more than a touchdown per game in the first 10 contests, has averaged 72.7 yards receiving and scored three touchdowns in the last four games.

Teams haven't found a way to stop the Patriots - the Pittsburgh Steelers showed that - but with a little help from Mother Nature they have slowed them down. New England recorded season lows in points, net passing yards (134), and total yards (265) in a wet and windy 20-10 win over the New York Jets Sunday.

Brady, who was held without a touchdown pass for the first time all season and is still five short of breaking Peyton Manning's mark, admitted after the game the weather made vertical passes and sideline routes challenging. His wide receivers agreed.

"It was pretty rough," said Jabar Gaffney. "With the conditions like that you want to run the ball more and [have] a lot more ball control and that's what we were able to do."

Moss, who needs four TD receptions in the final two games to break Jerry Rice's record for a season, set in 12 games in 1987, said, "One thing through my career that I've always watched is the New England Patriots playing in the snow and bad weather, so when I came up here I just wanted to know which days and what time of the month that was coming.

"Now, it's here, so there's nothing we can do about it, but just try to go out there and play and see what we can do."

Sunday's game and the Patriots' 27-24 windswept win over the Baltimore Ravens Dec. 3, have illustrated the difficulties of having a high-powered passing attack in the Northeast. Both Manning, who set the NFL record for touchdown passes with 49 in 2004, and the 1998 Minnesota Vikings, who set the record for points in a season with 556, benefited from playing their home games in domed stadiums.

Manning broke the TD record of Miami Dolphins great Dan Marino in a 34-31 overtime win at the RCA Dome in the penultimate game of the 2004 regular season. The four December games Manning played that year were all in stadiums with roofs. Three were in the climate-controlled RCA Dome. The Colts played the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium, which has a retractable roof. With a game-time temperature of 68 degrees, the roof was open.

The '98 Vikings played in the Metrodome and played road games against Detroit and St. Louis, both of which also play in domed stadiums. Of their six remaining road games, only one was played late in the season in the Northeast, a 38-28 win over the Ravens Dec. 13. Minnesota played Chicago and Green Bay, two cities known for wintry weather, the last week of September and the first week of October, respectively.

The Patriots, who have scored 523 points this season, just 34 shy of breaking Minnesota's mark, host the Dolphins Sunday and travel to East Rutherford, N.J., to face the New York Giants Dec. 29, so they could face weather similar to Sunday again.

"Obviously, it's not very conducive to throwing the football," Brady said Sunday. "I wish we played in a dome every week. It's 65 degrees or 70 degrees, but you play with whatever conditions are out there and you just try to do the best you can do."

Coach Bill Belichick yesterday downplayed the effect the weather had on the offense, saying the Patriots still were able to utilize about 95 percent of their game plan. It's not like the Patriots haven't thrown the ball in inclement weather before - remember the Snow Bowl?

"It wasn't terrible. It wasn't a sunny day in September, but it wasn't . . . we've all been in worse," said Belichick. "It was the same for the Jets. Look, we're in Boston. It's the middle of December. I don't think any of us are surprised if it's not clear, sunny, and warm out there."

The only record Belichick cares about is 14-0.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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